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Re: GPLv3 comedy unfolding -- "In Search Of GPL Version 3: The Long Road

From: Alexander Terekhov
Subject: Re: GPLv3 comedy unfolding -- "In Search Of GPL Version 3: The Long Road To Nowhere"
Date: Fri, 16 Mar 2007 18:15:29 +0100

Topics:   Consumer/Personal Tech 
In Search Of GPL Version 3: The Long Road To Nowhere

By Charles Babcock,
10:37 PM ET, Mar 15, 2007 

A month ago, I started down a path that I hoped would lead me to a great
prize: an explanation from the authors of how the General Public License
Version 3.0 was shaping up. Little did I know that this journey would
contain more curves than San Francisco's Lombard Street.

GPLv3 has been through two drafts, each of which stirred up its own
hornet's nest of criticism. Now we're approaching draft 3, the much
anticipated finale. Many criticisms have been heeded and remedies
included by authors Richard Stallman and attorney Eben Moglen. So its
supporters are curious: how will the GPL's third draft deal with a ban
on digital rights management? How will it bar patent work-arounds like
the Microsoft/Novell deal? What about the little known Affero provision?
You don't fully understand Affero? Well, neither do we.

I started with the Software Freedom Law Center, but Jim Garrison, its
spokesman, said Eben Moglen was out of the country and besides, Eben was
acting as an advisor to the Free Software Foundation. Ask them.

I did and got a somewhat formal response from Brett Smith, licensing
compliance engineer there. "I should point out here that we at the Free
Software Foundation and the Gnu project aren't part of the Open Source
movement, but the free software movement. This movement has been
campaigning for computer users' freedom since 1984. We discuss the
ethical issues surrounding… " and so on.

I actually wanted to contact someone who would dig into the text of the
next draft and point out where it was going. With time running out, I
decided Brett wasn't that person, as helpful as he was. There was only
one thing left to do and that was send an appeal direct to Richard
Stallman, the head of the Free Software Foundation, and ask him what he

In the meantime, Linux kernel author, Linus Torvalds, weighed in with a
thoughtful critique of GPLv3 versus GPLv2, some of which is recounted
here. The Web master of a sister publication had been forced to remove
an earlier Torvalds commentary on GPLv3, he says, because it was laced
with so many swear words that it violated the site's posting policy. But
I didn’t find anything blue in Torvald's email. 

Rather, I saw a crystal clear statement of support for the merits of
GPLv2 rather than an attack on GPLv3, and a wariness of losing those
merits in the move of GPLv3. I summarized some of those comments as an
example of a knowledgeable critique of GPLv3 and forwarded them with my
questions to Stallman.

"Is this story focusing on GPLv3 or on Torvalds' reaction to it?" he
asked in an email response. The former, I assured him.

He proceeded to pick up almost where Brett Smith had left off: It's a
common error, he wrote, "to label me, Gnu, Gnu/Linux or the Gnu GPL with
the term, "open source." That is the slogan adopted in 1998 by people
who reject the philosophy of the Free Software Movement. They have the
right to promote their views, but we would like to be associated with
our views, not theirs." 

I was with him on that one and perhaps needed another lecture on it. But
then came the ringer.

"I'll answer your questions if you will first promise me that the story
will avoid a couple of frequent errors. One common error is calling the
whole operating system 'Linux.' The system is basically Gnu; Linux is
actually the kernel, one program in the system."

I am familiar with this debate. I've been familiar with it for many
years. I have never wanted to take sides in it. But last year, when
called on to write about "The World's Greatest Software," I adopted the
position that Gnu tools and the Gnu system had contributed to Linux and
deserved some of the credit for its creation. How much credit I didn't
wish to resolve. 

>From my point of view, the Gnu project had produced a system that lacked
a kernel that would allow the system to function as a whole. Linus
Torvalds produced a kernel that allowed a Unix-like operating system to
function the way it should. How to apportion credit isn't my problem. I
merely recognize when a program runs and when it doesn't and give an
edge to the program that runs.

Stallman went on: "When people call the whole system 'Linux,' they give
the system's principal developer none of the credit. Would you please
agree to distinguish consistently in your article between Linux, the
kernel, and Gnu/Linux, the entire system?"

Even when I give the Gnu project some credit for Linux, I have never
wanted to describe it as the system's principal developer. If the Gnu
project was the system's principal developer, why wasn't the Gnu system
running at the time Torvalds developed Linux? And if it was running, who
was using it? I've never heard of someone using the Gnu operating

These and other doubts assailed me as I tried to respond to Stallman.

"Thanks for responding to my query… We agree that Linux owes a debt to
the Gnu code that the Free Software Foundation produced in advance of
Linux' creation. Information Week paid tribute to that debt…" and I
cited the URL for "The Greatest Software Ever Written," probably hoping
to generate a few more hits on the story. 

Stallman cited this line back to me. "By calling the system 'Linux,' you
give the main credit to a subsequent, secondary contributor, and
presenting it as his work. To say that this system 'owes a debt' to its
principal developer is not sufficient to overcome the unfairness of that
overall picture," he wrote back.

You can publish whatever you wish, he concluded, but "I decline to help
you do it."

For the record, in addition to referring to Linux as just plain ol'
Linux, I had also refused to promise to always refer to Linux as
Gnu/Linux. I have no quarrel with referring once to Gnu/Linux at the
start of a story that is going to refer to a debate within the free
software community. But I didn't want Information Week to be burdened
with always referring to it that way. Besides, it simply isn't this
publication's style to encumber something in that fashion when it has
already established its own name recognition, I told him. 

All of which was irrelevant. I had referred to Linux as Linux in my
initial response and that was that. 

With time really running out, I went back to the Software Freedom Law
Center. "Jim," I said, "don't tell me Eben Moglen is out of the
country--because our photographer just took a picture of him. Can I talk
to him about GPLv3?" Jim Garrison dutifully set out to set up the

On the day that I needed to submit my final additions to the story,
Garrison sent me the following message: "Although Eben would ordinarily
be happy to talk to you, Richard Stallman has instructed him not to… We
must honor our client's request."

Information Week would like to present a balanced picture of what draft
three of GPLv3 is going to look like. And we try to do so in the March
19 edition and on this Web site. Some of the most authoritative parties
we can find comment on GPLv3 in that story, but two of the most
authoritative parties will not be quoted. Just in case you're wondering
why, it's not for lack of trying.


"A Decision from FSF in 2 Weeks on Novell-MS Deal"

       -- When you want to know more but don't know where to look.
          (Saturday, February 03 2007 @ 01:50 PM EST GROKLAW)

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